Greeks vote as bushfires damage PM’s prospects

Greeks vote as bushfires damage PM’s prospects

17 September 2007

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Greece — Greeks have voted in a snap general election to determine the fate of governing conservatives whose prospects have been hurt by Greece’s deadly bushfires and a challenge from the far right.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’ centre-right New Democracy party is seeking a second four-year term. His party had a slim opinion poll lead over the opposition Socialists when a ban on voting surveys took effect on September 1.

Early opinion polls suggested conservatives could struggle to win a majority under a new electoral law that introduces greater proportional representation.

Mr Karamanlis, 51, faced 55-year-old Socialist leader George Papandreou, making it a contest between two descendants of powerful political families that have dominated Greek politics for half a century.

He called the snap election six months early, seeking a renewed mandate to speed up potentially unpopular economic reforms.

However, campaigning was halted during bushfires that killed at least 65 people and left the Government facing public anger over what some felt was a slow response to the crisis.

In the past two weeks, conservatives and socialists mounted frantic campaigns with large public rallies to stop support slipping to smaller parties.

The far-right Popular Orthodox Rally party, or LAOS, is set to enter Parliament for the first time, on a platform that includes immigration quotas and opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

“If LAOS does not get elected to Parliament, then the winning party will have an easier task of reaching an overall majority,” said Ilias Nikolakopoulos, election analyst at Mega television. “But if any party secures 42 per cent of the vote it should be able to form a government regardless of how its opponents perform.”

Mr Karamanlis ruled out seeking a coalition if he fails to win a majority, saying he would prefer to hold new elections.

During the campaign, he pledged to continue privatisation and cut back labour protection rules. Mr Papandreou’s Socialists have promoted alternatives they say will include a revised income tax system.

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